One of the strongest memories of my childhood was that of watching Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom once released from the prison that hid him from the world for decades. Even as a child I understood what his steps meant, not only for a whole country, but also for those who fought (and still fight) for civil rights.
Just like Madiba, I was born in South Africa. Unlike him, I was not directly affected by apartheid (that is not to say there hasn’t been a lasting legacy). If you live under such a regime it will have an impact on you, directly or otherwise. It will shape how you think about other people and yourself, as the environment is prompted to make you believe and reinforce that belief system. To change that, to defy and bring other people on board with you, takes a great deal of collective sense of (in)justice.
And that’s what we have witnessed over the past week. People have taken to the streets, in the midst of a pandemic, waving signs, chanting and asking for justice. People of different skin tones, different ages groups, marching in different parts of the world – apart but united. They are singing out the same name – George Floyd – but there are too many similar stories to his, albeit with different names in different places. Some people join because they have endured racism, while others march as allies, recognising something is deeply wrong and want to help with that change, just like those who protested against the apartheid regime in South Africa.
The latest protests against police brutality towards the black community first started in the US over the past week – and now other spots around the world have joined in solidarity – after the release of a video footage showing police officers using excessive force to detain a suspect, which resulted in their death. This being just one of many incidents along the years, where members of the African American community died in the hands of the police. Efforts were made to bring this issue on to the wider stage when in 2016, Colin Kaepernick took to the knee during the US national anthem to protest against police brutality and racism. The irony is not lost that the method chosen to peacefully protest against racial discrimination in the US was the same method that killed a man.
Those nine minutes broadcasted over several media platforms moved people to action. Our collective moral conscience does not allow us to sit quietly and let it go unchallenged. A life is a life, it be our neighbour or a stranger in a far away land.
This sad event has amplified our need to take a leap forward. This is a hard story to unpack as with anything that involves taboo subjects. You think history is in the past and we have learnt from it, for it to only be very thinly disguised as something else. Past doesn’t always stay in the past. Whatever hurt there is, it will follow you. Unless it’s faced, spoken openly, the pain stays and no healing takes place (a cliché but still very true). Even today, South Africa is in turmoil due to its history of colonialism. Sides are not entirely reconciled and violence still exists. It’s a very slow process of exposing the worse of us, so the best of us can make amends.
The world hasn’t been an entirely healthy place for us all. The news that constantly grab our attention are making us anxious and making us question our identity and set of values. Our sense of justice and social justice heightened by our social isolation. Trying to find solutions to problems: some are new, some are not. Why this and why that. Will these still remain on my minds when we return to society under the guise of “new normal”? I truly believe it will for a good percentage of us. A good number of people will have been galvanised to work on this; a good number of people will make smaller but still very significant gestures: be a better human being, be kinder; be more respectful, listen and don’t interrupt, ask for permission, celebrate other cultures by experiencing their stories through literature, music, dance, food…Fundamentally, our choices will make a difference.
Despite having witnessed many wrongs around me and others, I have hope and will make the choices to reflect that. Are you with me?